By Luke Klink

The Rusk County Junior Fair Livestock Project Auction lassoed $70,916 in total bids Saturday night, completing another year of dedication by area youngsters who raised market animals.

The final tally is still a $17,315 decrease from the $88,231 generated by the large animal auction last year, marking a 19.6 percent drop.

Most of the difference can be attributed to a steep decline in number of swine animals up for auction, according to Ladysmith Market President Norb Christman at Security Financial Bank. There were 28 swine auctioned last year compared with only 16 swine this year.

“It is down considerably, but that is in number of units,” Christman said.

Last year there were 49 large animals sold at auction compared with  34 this year, a 30.6 percent drop. Last year there were 28 swine, 13 beef, six sheep and two goats. This year there were 16 swine, 11 beef, five sheep and two goats.

These totals do not include the results from the Small Animal Livestock Auction.

Swine typically sell for $1,000 or considerably even more. Dairy and beef steer bids can surpass $3,000.

The swine and steer bids likely account for this year’s bidding decrease, according to Christman.

“There is about a difference of $17,000 and that is probably close to all being in swine,” Christman said. “They average $1,100 to $1,200 a piece, times 12,that is almost all of it right there. Then you take a couple of beef animals out as well.”

In recent years, the auction results have exceeded the $100,000 threshold in total bids.

“The volume proportion of swine down is a lot higher than the proportion of beef down,” Christman said.

However, beef often sell for double and triple the amount of a single swine.

“A couple of beef, though, depending on size, is where you get the $4,000, $5000 or $6,000 at a crack. You can be down a couple of beef, and that can be $10,000 in the total. But here, in reality the total is down about $17,000 but you are down a dozen swine,” Christman said.

Christman works at Security Financial Bank, which bought a market swine with an $1,100 winning bid.

“You can figure $1,000 and $1,200 as an average for a swine as a given,” Christman said.

Changing demographics could be playing a role in the auction totals as the decline in rural farms continues in the state.

Wisconsin lost 638 dairy farms in 2018, according to the latest data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. That’s a 7.25 percent decline in the number of registered dairy herds — the biggest drop since records started in 2004. The state lost another 42 dairy farms in July, and since Jan. 1, has lost 491 farms. At this rate, the Dairy State could lose 735 dairy farms this year, which would be a decline of 9 percent. In 2018, the state lost 691 farms, a rate of decline of 7.9 percent. Over the last decade the state has lost more than 5,000 farms, or 40 percent of its licensed dairy farms.

Cow numbers are not declining as rapidly, however. Since January, Wisconsin cow numbers have declined just 2,000 head to 1.268 million. The average  cows per farm, as a result has ticked up from 157 cows per herd in January to 166 in August.

In 2015, market animal sales in the Rusk County Fair Livestock Project increased by almost one third due to having more units up for sale, more bidders and soaring beef prices. The end result was a 28.5 percent hike in auction revenue from $84,640 in 2014 to $108,747 in 2015.

There are many variables that go into auction revenue, including if audience members get involved in a bidding war.

“They have had some fairly remarkable years,” Christman said of the auction.

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